Prevention is the main focus of one of the goals of Ireland’s drug and alcohol strategy, ‘Reducing harm, supporting recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’. The strategy aims to promote and protect health and well-being by preventing early use of alcohol and other drugs among young people, influencing behaviour and challenging social norms and attitudes, and providing targeted interventions to minimise harm to those who have already started using or belong to at-risk groups. A number of non-governmental organisations and governmental agencies are involved, with the bulk of the funding provided by the statutory sector.
Prevention interventions encompass a wide range of approaches, which are complementary. Environmental and universal strategies target entire populations, selective prevention targets vulnerable groups that may be at greater risk of developing substance use problems and indicated prevention focuses on at-risk individuals.
Environmental prevention interventions in Ireland are focused on increasingly restrictive alcohol and tobacco controls. Local-level strategies are being developed to change the environment in which substance use takes place, rather than focusing on ‘problem users’ per se. For example, the Responding to Excessive Alcohol Consumption in Third-level (REACT) programme is currently being implemented in 15 higher education institutions across Ireland with the aim of strategically tackling harms associated with alcohol consumption among university students.
In the case of universal prevention, the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme is the main vehicle through which substance use prevention is delivered in schools. The programme is a mandatory part of the primary and post-primary (junior cycle) school curriculum, and it supports the personal and social development, health and well-being of students. Specific substance misuse prevention programmes have been integrated into the SPHE curriculum. Since September 2017, SPHE has been incorporated into a new area of learning for junior cycle secondary-school pupils called ‘Wellbeing’, which is a compulsory element of the curriculum. The Wellbeing programme provides students with the knowledge, attitudes and skills that enable them to protect and promote their own well-being and that of others. Psychologists provide training for teachers so that they can implement evidence-based programmes and practices that promote resilience and social and emotional competence in children and young people. The service has prioritised the delivery of two programmes in particular: the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (IYTCM) Programme and the FRIENDS programmes. Evaluations carried out in Ireland produced positive findings for both programmes.
The Drug and Alcohol Task Forces deliver a range of selective interventions in areas that have been identified as socially and economically disadvantaged and that face a range of challenges, including high levels of drug use. Interventions are delivered through local and regional awareness initiatives, family programmes, programmes targeted at risk behaviours that are specific to the locality, community action on alcohol, etc.
The existing funding streams for youth interventions are being reshaped, based on an evaluation, evidence reviews and stakeholder engagement, into a single funding scheme targeting disadvantaged young people with evidence-informed interventions and services that will secure good outcomes. The purpose of the new scheme Targeted Youth Funding Scheme (TYFS) is ‘to support young people to overcome adverse circumstances by strengthening their personal and social competencies’.
Indicated prevention programmes are mostly provided as part of broader services for vulnerable children and young people. There is also a focus on providing brief interventions across an increasingly wide range of settings that deal with both alcohol and drug use.